Chelsea close in on title as Pedro sparks emphatic win against Everton

Andy Hunter at Goodison Park

Antonio Conte would not say it but his body language had already confessed. When the final whistle sounded on a pivotal win at Goodison Park, the Chelsea manager strode across the pitch to conduct celebrations before a jubilant away support. He leapt on Thibaut Courtois’s back. He bounced up and down in front of the Bullens Road stand. He led the applause. He knew. The Premier League title is in sight.

“A great win, a great win,” was as far as the Italian coach would go when pressed on the wider significance of victory at Everton. On paper this had been the toughest assignment left for Chelsea in their pursuit of the crown. On the pitch for 66 minutes it proved as much, with Ronald Koeman’s side holding firm and the contest delicately poised. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard had both missed inviting chances in the first half. The combustible centre-forward’s irritation was growing against a team that had won its last eight matches on home soil. Then Pedro let fly from 20 yards and the ball was in the top corner of Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal before the Everton keeper knew it. They had found a way, as champions always do.

Victory, and a first clean sheet in eight games, rewarded a patient, organised and clinical display from Conte’s team, who added gloss to the scoreline with a scrambled goal from Gary Cahill plus a well‑worked one from the substitute Willian. Idrissa Gueye had man-marked his former Lille team-mate Hazard to good effect throughout but Chelsea’s array of creative options ensured they were not contained. “Compare the offensive parts of the two teams today,” the Everton manager requested. “That was the biggest difference and the reason we lost.”

His resources stretched, Koeman was again reliant on youth and sought to unsettle Chelsea’s three-man defence with a forward trio of Dominic Calvert‑Lewin, Romelu Lukaku and Enner Valencia. Chelsea called on experience and a winner’s mentality and subdued the hosts before punishing them with three second-half strikes. Conte praised his substitutes Willian and Cesc Fàbregas for their professionalism and willingness to contribute, not sulk, when not in the starting lineup. “Great men as well as fantastic players,” the Chelsea manager said.

There was an intensity to both teams to begin with, one that would not be sustained until the visitors turned on the style in the final stages, with Calvert-Lewin hitting a post in the second minute after being released by Ross Barkley. The rebound rolled invitingly for Lukaku to convert against his past and potentially future club but Cahill intervened with a crucial block. The Chelsea defender soon tested Stekelenburg with a 25-yard drive spilled by the Everton goalkeeper and hacked clear by Ashley Williams. A frenetic, open start suggested a captivating contest ahead but it developed into a physical struggle before Pedro’s decisive intervention.

Chelsea carried their customary, incisive threat on the counterattack but their final delivery often undermined the quality of their approach work. Their rhythm may have been disrupted by knocks to Costa and Hazard inside the opening 20 minutes, the former left feeling his knee following a committed but clean tackle by the excellent Tom Davies, the latter after colliding with the advertising hoardings, but Koeman’s tactics were also a factor.

Gueye shadowed Hazard’s every step as the Everton manager paid the Belgium international the compliment his abilities have merited this season. With Morgan Schneiderlin sidelined for 10 days by a thigh injury and Gueye spending much of his afternoon chasing Hazard to the corner, Everton offered Chelsea the space to dominate central midfield. Thanks largely to the prodigious work-rate of Davies, the visitors were unable to control the contest but still, as so often this season and as is the hallmark of champions, Conte’s team never lost their sense of purpose.

Only Chelsea posed a genuine threat after the restart but they had rarely tested the Everton goalkeeper when Pedro produced a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock. Collecting a pass from Nemanja Matic 25 yards from the Everton goal, the Spanish winger turned Phil Jagielka to his right, then his left before sending an unstoppable drive into the top corner of Stekelenburg’s goal. It was a finish whose impact would have been felt at White Hart Lane.

There was an element of fortune about Chelsea’s second when Hazard, having been fouled by Gueye as he sprinted down the left, drove the resulting free-kick low into the Everton six-yard box. The delivery took a slight deflection off Gueye and Stekelenburg could only palm the ball on to Cahill, who scored via his knee.

Job done, Hazard was replaced by Willian with five minutes remaining and the Brazilian sealed what was ultimately a comfortable win seconds later. Costa released Fàbregas to the byline and the midfielder cut the ball back perfectly for Willian to beat Stekelenburg with a routine finish. Conte’s roar of delight could be heard around Goodison on the final whistle. “We’re gonna win the league,” his supporters sang. It is hard to disagree now.

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